See the New Mad Sociologist at http://madsociologistblog.wordpress.com

2014 Campaign

As Presidents Go—My Defense of My Defense of President Obama

Or…Elections as Triage

Some people have contacted me or talked to me about my most recent posts defending President Obama and the Obama Record. The critiques are summarized as, “don’t you think you will lose your radical credentials by defending a representative of the status quo and elite power like Obama and the Democratic Party?”

Well, I’m not sure where I get my radical credentials, or who is responsible for taking them away, but the best I can say in response is, “I hope not.” My politics hasn’t changed or, in any way, moderated. I still feel obligated to speak for the powerless in the face of the powerful and to point out the mechanisms by which the elite exploit the common and despoil the commons. My humanistic and universalist vision hasn’t changed. My ideals remain the same.

However, there comes a time when practical reality must be given priority over idealism, and this election year was, in my opinion, one of those times. Don’t get me wrong. Had there been a candidate with a more progressive or radical vision, I would have focused my energies there, but there wasn’t. One can only work with the cards that are given.

Look, elections are rarely ever the venue for radical action. This is especially true of mid-term elections. If we on the left want to have an impact on elections, then we have some more work to do in networking and building the necessary grassroots power, combined with a message that we can shout over the constant conservative din that drowns out any rational discourse. We don’t have that yet. We are working on it. I’d like to think that I’m doing my small part. The truth is we are simply not there.

This last election was testament to the amount of work we must do in electoral politics. We simply have not come to terms with the fact that elections are not about policy and governing; they are about marketing and advertising. That’s a playing field on which we are, as yet, ill prepared. The Republican marketing machine has a clear and distinct advantage in that medium.

So this election was not and could not be a venue for advancing a left agenda. Yes, we did very well on some referenda and initiatives at the state level. That’s a testament to our ground work. However, advancing those who believe as we believe was not an option. This election was about triage more than it was about a left wing vision of justice.

Government continues to secure the interests of the power elite. Every president and party in American history has done the same. Obama and our current crop of Democrats are no exception to this rule. True, some presidents, like the Roosevelts and LBJ, understood that securing the interests of the power elite meant negotiating with very angry and organized mass movements. Such conditions do not exist today, as was clear by an electorate that wanted an increased minimum wage, immigration reform, legalized marijuana, but voted Republican.

Clearly, the left is hemorrhaging. As distasteful as it is, before you can stabilize your patient, you have to stop, or at least slow the bleeding.

I used to be one of those advocates who believed that we, as a nation, were no worse off with a Republican leadership than a Democratic government. The Bush debacle has disabused me of this mistaken assumption. There is no metric that I can see that can convince me that the country and the world is no better off with a President Obama than with a President McCain or a President Romney. Obamacare is not a single payer health system, but it has been a benefit to millions of people. Dodd-Frank is not Glass-Steagall, but a President McCain would not have gone even that far, and a President Romney would have gutted what few, milquetoast protections it offers. The Stimulus was not the next New Deal, but a Republican government would have abandoned the people to suffering a certain Second Great Depression with nothing to offer solace. The Obama/Democratic government has not been what we wanted, but it was better than the given alternative. We on the left are allowing dogma to blind us if we suggest any different.

The Obama/Democrats have overseen an expansion of executive powers and the growth of the Intelligence arm of the Military Industrial Complex. No doubt. The state surveillance apparatus is a growing beast devouring American rights to privacy and self-possession. The world still groans and bleeds under the blades of American militarism. The American backed transnational elite are consolidating their holdings and shaping the New World Order. The very fate of the world in the face of global climate change is shrugged off as a mere inconvenience to the Billionaire Class. Obama/Democrats are as responsible for this as are the Tea Party/Republicans. We on the left have offered some token resistance, at best, failing to build on the few openings that we have had with the Occupy Movement and the Snowden Revelations.

Still, even in the face of its shortcomings, the Obama/Democratic government, with no left wing alternative at that level, has been the best option. To prove this, let’s do a quick mental exercise I like to call “Worst Case Scenario.”

The Worst Case Scenario is Republican control of the White House, 2/3rds of Congress and 2/3rds of the states. The Republican Party has a filibuster proof Senate and the ability to push Constitutional Amendments at whim. What are the policies that will come from that government?

    Affordable Care Act…gone

Medicaid…gone

    Temporary Assistance to Needy Families…gone

    Social Security…gone

    Medicare…gone

    Roe v. Wade…gone

    Food Stamps…gone

    SCHIP…gone

    Unemployment Insurance…gone

    Civil Rights Act…gone

    Voting Rights Act…gone

    Corporate taxes…gone

    Progressive Income Tax…gone

    Public Schools…gone

    Public Libraries…gone

    National Parks/Forests and protected habitats…gone

    EPA and Environmental Regulation…gone

    FDA and Food and Drug Regulations…gone

    Minimum Wage…gone

    OSHA…gone

    Earned Income Tax Credit…gone

    Child Labor Laws…gone

    National Labor Relations Board…gone…and with it, any legal legitimacy for unions

    Dodd-Frank…gone

    Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…gone

 

    Let’s face it; all of the reforms of the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Great Society would be the targets of such an atrocity as a Republican controlled government. We know this. Voting Democrat might not be a blow against the machine, but it is an effective way to protect what we have so far. And that’s something…something significant that benefits many millions of people.

    Look, voting Democratic and defending Obama isn’t something to be proud of. It’s an act of self-preservation. If we want better from American elections then we on the left must offer a significant alternative that reaches millions of people who are yearning for it.

    Where the left wing agenda was on the ballot, people voted for it. We have the ideas. We have the people. We even have the networks. What we don’t have is a soundboard that’s going to reach the electorate. Until we have this soundboard, we are stuck with electoral triage.

    More on this as the ideas develop.

    


Are You Better Off Than You Were in 2009?

As Obama Keeps Saying and the Right Keeps Ridiculing

 

For the most part, yes.

Those of us who remember the catastrophe that was the state of the union when Obama took office in 2009 understand that this is, for the most part, true. Let’s be clear. This is not an advocacy for any fantastic Obama miracle, but rather a realistic look at the Obama legacy this last six years. You are more likely to be in better shape now than you were in 2009, statistically, and in actually. That is not to say that there aren’t many Americans who have a legitimate gripe against Obama’s leadership style. Indeed there are. But to suggest that the nation as a whole is not better off than it was in 2009 is a desperate attempt at selective, FoxNoise inflected, false memory. Six years ago, the nation was undergoing an economic free fall by all metrics. We were involved in two wars. The leadership had been so thoroughly delegitimized that we had a harsh lesson in elite capitalism.

In 2009 I lost my job of eight years. I worked, very very hard, for a private school that shut its doors as a result of the recession. For the first time in my life I filed for unemployment, and boy was I living large…at least as far as the Republicans were concerned. The Republican response to this crisis was a multi-billion dollar bailout of Wall Street—nothing but self-righteous platitudes for Main Street. Conservative commentators were busy calling me a deadbeat for losing my job. They reveled in explaining how the economy would improve if only my children and I were cast into the streets left to grovel and starve. That would force me to take any job I possibly could, regardless of my background and experience, just for the opportunity to, maybe, feed my kids. Of course, there weren’t even any minimum wage jobs to be had at that time, but the pundits who were blowing their ill wind seemed to be well taken care of.

My wife and I pooled what resources we had and braced ourselves for hardship as we developed plans for all possible contingencies, most pressingly, what would happen if we could not make our mortgage payments and we had to walk away from the home we had worked so hard to get? What about our kids? What about their futures and their opportunities? With under $500 a month coming in from unemployment, our options were limited. It was one of the lowest moments of my life.

Fortunately, the Republicans were not in charge. President Obama and the Democrats were able to pass a stimulus bill. This stimulus included over $100 billion in funds for education. Some of those fund trickled down into my school district, which had a block on new hiring. The block was lifted and I had a job within three weeks. My home was saved and my family was secure…and remains that way. For that reason more than any other, I voted for Obama in 2012. Republicans did everything they could to block to stop the stimulus. If they had their way, I would have lost everything. For this reason more than any other, I will never vote for a conservative in either party.

Look, I understand that I was lucky. Skill, intelligence, hard work, had nothing to do with my good fortune. I happened to be in a career that was deemed worthy of rescue by the governing party. Had the other governing body been in charge at that time, I would have been out of luck. There are millions who were not so lucky, and many of them remain unlucky in the moribund recovery that we’ve experienced thus far. Some of this blame should fall on Obama…but not all of it. The Republican strategy for the last six years has been to make the nation as ungovernable as was humanly possible.

Regardless, to suggest that the nation is not better off than it was in 2009 is clearly false. More importantly, there’s no way the case could be made that the nation would have been better off with a Republican controlled Congress and a President McCain or a President Romney. Obama may not have been the best person for the job, but he was the best person available. So let’s take a look at some of the relevant data.¹

How about those soaring prices that are all Obama’s fault? Well, it turns out that the certain inflation that would result from all of this “money printing” has never really materialized. Inflation remains constant. Now, this is not necessarily a good thing. Our current economic woes are largely the result of tremendous private debt overhang. Historically, private debt dragging the economy can be relieved with a little higher inflation. However, fear mongering about Weimar levels of inflation were a bit of an exaggeration.

In fact, our economy has been growing fairly consistently since 2009 (the stimulus). It is not growing at the rate that we would like, but it is growing. Better is better.

Unemployment rates have been dropping.

…and this is true no matter how you measure it. Right wing commentators foaming about “Real Unemployment! Real Unemployment!” are simply trying to skew the data.

Unemployment claims have been declining.

And yes, government expenditures for income security have been increasing, but barely. Again, this is not necessarily a good thing as there are those who really need these services who are being denied.

 

Meanwhile, the poverty rate is starting to fall. Let’s face it, this is depressing, but it does call the lie to claims that poverty is going through the roof.

What about larger economic issues, like the US trade deficit? Well, it looks like we are making progress on that road as well.

Skyrocketing debt that is out of control under Obama socialism? Well, not quite. Yeah, it’s going up, but not in any scary way. It’s hovering around 100% of GDP. To put that in perspective, that’s like holding a $200,000 mortgage while bringing in $200,000 a year. Not quite so scary as the right wing pundits would have it.

Are growing federal deficits dragging down the economy? Um…maybe that claim could have been made in 2007, but since 2009 it has simply not been true. Hard as it may be to believe, especially if you are caught in the FoxNoisisphere, the deficit has been falling since 2009. Again, this is not necessarily a good thing as the economists who have been right in their analysis of this Great Recession from the beginning say that what the economy needs to truly rebound is more spending, not less.

What about evil Obamacare? Surely those out of control premiums are making life a living socialist misery for everyone. Well, no. Though premiums are increasing, they are increasing more slowly than they have in fifteen years. Health care expenditures have been increasing at a fairly steady rate for ten years and actually appear to be slowing slightly. In return, there are now almost twelve million fewer uninsured, insurance companies can no longer turn down the sick for pre-existing conditions, federal subsidies Of course, Mitt Romney and the Republicans had their own health care plan…oh wait, that’s right, Obamacare was the Republican alternative…

…hey, we’ve had this argument. Let’s move on to single payer. Conservatives are probably wrong about that, too.

Gas prices out of control? Yeah, look. The point has been made.

Let’s have a real conversation on Obama’s record. The graphs above are not conclusive, and they are certainly not particularly impressive. There are real criticisms of the Obama Administration. Equally, there are very deep criticisms of the dying embers of our political process, a process by which one party dedicates itself to crippling the other and all else can suffer for it. These are conversations that might be productive. However, ridiculous claims that there has been no improvements in the last six years are just counterproductive.

And disingenuous. It’s a bald attempt to deflect from the fact that the thirty years of conservative Republican and New Democrat governance has created a market environment in which an elite few can cripple the global economy and be bailed out with bi-partisan support, but those representing common people must push their policies past a party system roadblock, and the only party willing to even try more often than not lacks the backbone to actually fight for the people who matter.

Could Obama and the Democrats have done a better job? Absolutely. Can we expect the Republicans will turn things around should they come to power? Well, things will turn around, but they will go back to the bad old days that created this mess.

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  1. For you Scott!

One Political Endorsement I Will Make

Gil Fulbright (or Phillip Mamouf-Wifarts) is running the only honest campaign I’ve ever seen!

This is actually pretty brilliant satire. The campaign finance advocacy group, Represent.us is running a fake candidate in the obnoxiously expensive Kentucky senate election. The goal is to educate the people on just how corrupted our political system is and to call attention to the need to get money out of politics. Check out the Fulbright campaign website and participate by creating your own Fulbright memes. Most importantly, share the videos and lend your support to Fulbright’s “totally honest campaign.”

Good luck to Represent.us.